High Protein Diet – Pros and Cons
When we think of the word “diet” we think eating fewer calories, cutting out your favorite snacks and avoiding sugars, fat and processed foods. Rarely do we associate diet with proteins. And yet, proteins are a vital part of any diet. They are one of the macronutrients the body needs to sustain itself. Proteins are used to create and maintain every cell in our bodies. They are responsible for regeneration and power creation which gives our bodies energy. A diet high in protein is vital to maintaining an optimum standard of health.
So what are proteins, anyway?
Proteins are a group of molecules. They are further comprised of smaller chemical elements called amino acids. In total, our bodies use twenty-two different amino acids. Some are made within the body, but some must be obtained from food sources. Together, these amino acids combine together in innumerable combinations to create our cells, hair, nails and other essential body components. They can be called the building blocks of the human body.
Why do our bodies need protein?
- Oxygenation – Hemoglobin, a protein contained in red blood cells, carries oxygen to every part of our bodies.
- Body structuring – Bones are structured with protein and other vitamins and minerals. Skin too requires proteins like collagen, elastin, and keratin to maintain its shape.
- Hormone regulation – Proteins regulate hormones in the body, especially during puberty.
- Movement – Muscles are composed of protein, and these help us to move around and perform daily tasks.
- Transport of nutrients – Proteins bind many different nutrients in the bloodstream together and transport them to different areas of the body.
- Genetics – Proteins such as DNA and RNA preserve our genetic code in every cell.
- Repair – The body uses protein to regenerate and repair cells that have been damaged or destroyed.
Why should you watch your protein intake?
Many people are protein deficient, especially vegetarian. Depending on your gender, age, health, and daily exertion levels, it is important to know how much protein you need every day and whether you are getting it. Protein deficiency leads to long-lasting damage and is difficult to correct.
How much protein is required?
For the average male – 56 to 91 grams per day
For the average female – 46 to 75 grams per day
A good rule of thumb to follow for optimum protein consumption is 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Higher quantities of protein will be needed if you are:
- A teenager going through puberty
- A pregnant woman
- An athlete or bodybuilder
- Middle-aged or elderly
- Trying to lose weight
What is a high protein diet?
We get most of our energy requirements from carbohydrates, fats, and sugars. What most people do not know is that protein too can provide an equal amount of energy. If you are trying to lose weight in a hurry, or are trying to build muscle, a high protein diet is invaluable. This involves minimizing carbohydrates from your diet and relying more on protein. Without carbohydrates, the body begins burning fat stores for energy. This is called ketosis. It makes you lose weight quickly because you are less hungry. Basically, 30 to 60 percent of daily calories are obtained from proteins, and the rest from fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and fats. Like all good things, you will get the most out of this diet if you maintain a healthy balance of all nutrients. A high protein diet does not mean eliminating other food groups, as protein alone cannot fulfill all the nutritional requirements. It must also be noted that all proteins are not created equal. Plant sources and fish provide quality protein without additional side effects. Animal sources of proteins such as milk, eggs, yogurt, and meat are complete proteins, but they must be consumed in moderation. This is because of overeating those increases risks of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. Some of the most popular high protein diets are the Atkins diet and the Paleo diet.
What are the pros of a high protein diet?
- Satiety – Eating a high protein diet will make you feel full for longer periods of time. Protein takes longer to be digested than carbohydrates or fats. The duration between two meals will increase. The temptation to snack on unhealthy junk food will decrease. This is what causes the immediate weight loss usually associated with high protein diets.
- Lowering of cholesterol – A high protein diet is one of the fastest ways to lower cholesterol and hence blood pressure.
- Alertness – Eating a meal full of carbs will make you slow down and sleepy. This means that your productivity level decreases while the meal is being digested. A high protein diet can help you avoid sluggishness after mealtimes and remain active.
- Muscle mass – A high protein diet promotes healthy muscle growth, and lowers obesity.
What are the cons of a high protein diet?
- Initial side effects – While the body is transitioning to a high protein diet, it is common to get headaches, fatigue, and be irritable and lethargic.
- Body odor – High protein diets cause the body to accumulate ketones, which cause bad body odor. The body also starts eliminating toxins, and this causes further odor. People also struggle with gas initially. To combat this, it is essential to drink lots of water.
- Quantity over quality – As previously mentioned, you should consider the quality of the protein you eat, and not just the quantity. Eating meat products will certainly increase your protein intake, but will also make you consume more fats. Seafood, legumes, nuts, and seeds are healthier options.
- Loss of nutrients – You must make sure that the vitamins and minerals you lose when you eliminate carbs are replaced from other sources or supplements. Fruits and vegetables and dietary fiber are essential for digestion and nutrient absorption. A high protein diet should not mean you cut out everything else. A balance is required.
- Kidney pressure – A high protein diet can cause stress on the kidneys. Make sure to drink loads of water to help your kidneys filter out the byproducts.
Should you go for a high protein diet?
If you want to lose some weight quickly, perhaps for a family function or vacation, or if you are a bodybuilder looking to build high muscle mass, a high protein diet is for you. A high protein diet shows quick results. If you follow more of a sedentary lifestyle, it is more beneficial for you to reduce carbs and increase protein intake, but not necessarily follow a high protein diet. If you want to lose a lot of weight, a high protein diet will only help marginally. This is because the initial weight loss will be in the form of water, which the body regains as it adjusts to the new diet.
What are some good quality protein sources?
- Lean beef
- Poultry with the skin removed
- Pork cuts like tenderloin, top loin, sirloin steak, and rib chops
- Fish such as tuna and salmon
- Legumes such as peas and beans
- Dairy items such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pistachios and peanuts
A high protein diet is definitely beneficial, but you should tailor is according to your requirements or hire a Dietitian/Nutritionist to help you find out the right proteins for you. Never jump on the bandwagon because it is trendy. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet.
Good luck and healthy, happy living to you!